Behind the stripes

Christopher Wendt is a 2015 graduate of Newberry High School. A former All U.P. Football player for Indians, Wendt also played basketball. Now, nearly 5 years after he graduated, Chris is still as big of a part of the games as he was when he wore the pads and put on the uniform. Now, he gives back as a registered official with the MHSAA.

Wendt said he was always interested in officiating. “During my senior year I started with elementary games,” he said. “After graduating I wanted to stay involved in the game and it was a way to give back to local communities in the EUP and northern lower. Plus it’s a good way to get exercise, and a little extra cash is nice.”

Wendt officiates both football and basketball. In the winter he averages three games per week, working an area that extends west to Munising and as far south as Petoskey. It’s busy with a lot of travel, but he’s in high demand.

“I could work 5 games a week if I wanted due to the lack of officials,” he said. “Schools are always looking for officials.”

Wendt had great local mentors who helped him get started. “I worked under Hondo Depew, Ace Depew, and Mitch Grigg,” he said. “They always told me to study the rules, be confident with your calls and blow a hard whistle. Don’t be afraid to be wrong, because we all are sometimes.”

Unfortunately, criticism comes with the position. According to Chris, that’s the number one reason officials are hanging up their whistles, and they’re doing it at a record rate.

“We have to ignore the crowd,” Wendt said. “I just tell myself, if they think the call should have been different, they should register as an official and officiate themselves.”

They simply don’t know what it’s like. “I just remind myself to officiate the game and don’t worry about the crowd, I will never please everyone in the gym,” he said.

It’s not only the fans – coaches can cause chaos, too. But Chris said the key is to communicate clearly. “What I tell coaches is if you have a problem with my call, ask me. Don’t tell me I did something wrong or tell me I made the wrong call or call it both ways,” he said. “Because I don’t turn around and tell you to coach a different way.”

Difficulties aside, Wendt said the good definitely outweighs the bad. And in the end, he believes it should be all about the kids.

“My goal officiating is to make sure the kids have fun and no one gets hurt,” he said. “This biggest thing is to make sure the kids have fun.”

His loves staying so close to the game. “I have the best seats in the house for some of the best games,” he said.

Ultimately, Wendt hopes more people will sign up to officiate. “Don’t be afraid to sign up. You’re going to get heckled a little bit in the beginning, and you’re going to make some wrong calls. But that’s OK. We have all been beginners at one point, and you get better every game and learn something every game. If you have questions reach out to other officials, dig into the rulebook, and attend officials camps and clinics. Camps and clinics are some of the best ways to learn and improve.”

The MHSAA provides a plan of success for newly registered officials. You can even start while you’re in high school, like Wendt did. High school juniors and seniors can reach out to their athletic director, who can assign a local official to be your mentor. If you’re 18 or older, you will need to register on the MHSAA website and take the sport appropriate exams as well as the officials handbook exam. Once you pass the exams, you have to purchase your uniforms. And then get to work.

Chris and I recalled the time he got called for a technical foul during his senior year for the Indians. He reacted angrily at the time.

“Knowing what I know now about officiating, those refs didn’t deserve my outburst,” he said. Although, everyone needs one technical in their career, right?”

I had to agree; I got one too. Many of us who have played or coached have gotten one. But one thing is clear. For Chris Wendt, calling the fouls is more fun than getting them!